Archive for March, 2012

Our Failing Public Schools – Part I, Section 3: Some of the problems teachers face in doing their jobs effectively

March 31, 2012

Low pay

California politicians often claim that the pay for teachers in this state is among the highest in the nation—a reported average of $64,424 in 2007-2008. Frankly, that amazes me. When I retired from teaching — due to the budget crisis, not from desire — I had a clear teaching credential, eight years of teaching experience plus a bonus year for having been in the military, a master’s degree stipend, and additional educational credits. My last year I made a little over $58,000. A major factor in that figure is a few extra thousand dollars in lieu of medical, catastrophic illness, and other insurance benefits, which obviously cannot come close to me having to pay the actual costs for those out of pocket (declining benefits for teachers is another issue). There are many younger teachers I know making less than $40,000 a year, although they admittedly do not have the same qualifications. I can only assume there must be a lot of teachers who are nearing retirement who skew the average salary figure upwards.

Since I do not know how that “average salary” figure was arrived at, I will assume that, on a straight dollar scale, this is true. On a per pupil basis (i.e., size of classes), our teachers are still paid below the national average: $3,479 in California compared to the national average of $3,811. However, a pure dollar comparison fails to take into consideration the extremely high cost of living throughout California. So, if a teacher simply wants to collect a reasonable pay check, this is fine. However, if they actually want to live in California — say, for example, paying their mortgage — they are in deep trouble. Never mind buying a house; the market is so high that even a modest apartment in most urban areas is exorbitant on the national scale.

Now, a lot of hard-working people throughout this country will say: “$58,000 a year sounds pretty good to me!” I can imagine that’s true. But there are many jobs around that pay at least that well, especially if one can earn overtime, that do not require anything above a high-school diploma. So think about the cost of attending a university for six years, let alone the lost wages one could have earned during that time if one were in another job, especially as a union worker. (Yes, public schools have unions, but they are the most pathetic, weak unions in the world, as I have mentioned.)

However, if I compare the salary with other professions that require a master’s degree (which, after the mandatory two years of post-graduate teacher education program, is a close equivalent, even if some teachers do not finish it), it’s pitiful. Many people who do not know what a teacher really does think they only work seven hours a day for nine and a half months. They have no idea of the countless hours each teacher must spend in staff meetings, supervising extra-curricular activities (required), training sessions, parent or student conferences, phone calls home, and other ancillary activities that are above the countless hours some teachers spend in lesson planning and grading. Having previously been an executive in private industry, I can tell you it’s about the same amount of hours — in fact, maybe more than many mid-level managers ever experience. Yet most professionals start at $50,000 or $60,000 rather than winding up there after ten years of experience.

So, other than personal fulfillment in contributing to our future generations, where is the incentive for young college students to go into teaching? It used to be in job security, medical benefits and a solid retirement. Well, those are all rapidly disappearing. Over the past decade or two a number of districts have reduced or eliminated benefits. More recently, actual layoffs of many qualified teachers (not to mention counselors, librarians, and school medical personnel, which impact the quality of education) have occurred in order to meet drastically reduced school budgets.

Next: Unrealistic curriculum in Teacher Education Programs (TEP)

Our Failing Public Schools; Part I, Section 2: Teachers are easy targets for blame

March 30, 2012

Why are teachers easy targets? First, the many teaching unions are totally fragmented, and have no real political power. By nature, most teachers like to remain in their classroom or their department, and are not political activists. They prefer dealing with their students, who might actually listen to them, rather than politicians. Second, they don’t have much direct access to the media. Most news regarding teachers is about strikes, layoffs or declining test scores. Other than the occasional news story about a teacher of the year or a movie about a unique teacher who achieved fabulous results with their students, most of the time you hear about a teacher it’s because of sexual misconduct. When a teacher is caught doing such a terrible and reprehensible crime, they are fired and then imprisoned. When a politician is caught in such an act, the worst that happens is they may have to resign. In some cases, they get to go on being President.

One of those steps in qualifying a teacher is to require stringent tests that show subject matter proficiency; thus, the politicians show they are aware that teachers need to be very knowledgeable in their subject. Today’s teachers are also required to take more courses than before at the graduate level in order to receive their teaching credentials. Thus, they are better trained for the job than ever before. Next, several of the new classes (or a new program for currently credentialed teachers) are geared towards making teachers “culturally sensitive”, because teachers were clearly out of touch with the changing demographics inCalifornia, as well as five other states high in illegal immigrants. Finally, they shortened the time period for which a credential is good, from permanent to five years, during which time teachers must take even more continuing education to re-qualify.

Notice any common threads to all of these great solutions? Number one, not one of them costs the State one penny. The teacher must pay for every single additional qualification, as well as spending the time it takes to receive them. Number two, none of those solutions addresses any of the actual problems. If they did, then the system would be improving, not continuously declining.

Are teachers the main problem?

Why do I say “actual” problems; don’t I think teachers are one of the problems with the decline in the standards? Not really. In the first place, with all of those requirements in place for the past couple of decades, the quality of teachers must clearly have risen, as the credential program essentially requires a Master’s degree now, and many other adjunct prerequisites. In the second place, I have worked with a number of teachers for years now, six of those in low-performing school districts, and it is my personal observation that most teachers really are dedicated, qualified, and hard-working.

Are there teachers who are jaded, incompetent, too set in their ways, arrogant, and just plain bad teachers? Absolutely. However, given the results — or lack thereof — that legislators demonstrate, such as not even being able to agree on a budget for the state until a crisis situation has developed, I would say the average teacher is not only a lot more qualified for their job than the average politician, but a lot more effective. And very few teachers are able to base their job performance on either pork barrel projects or on kickbacks from influential contributors. And, be honest, what percentage of people do you know in your profession that you would say are not highly competent? Teachers have no monopoly on incompetence in their profession.

Nevertheless, as much of the rest of the world (i.e., politicians, students and parents) blame the decline of our educational system on teachers, I will spend some space on a discussion of them. If teachers aren’t the main problem, what are some of the problems they face in doing their jobs?

Next: Some of the problems teachers face in doing their jobs effectively

Our Failing Public Schools (Especially in California); Part I, Section 1: Whose Fault Is It?

March 28, 2012

The K-12 school systems in a few East Coast states are alive and well. However, it’s well known that the standards of only a few decades ago have slipped or totally plummeted in most of the country, and are nearing cesspool levels in California in particular. Parents blame the government for not investing enough money. The government blames teachers. Many teachers blame the administration and the students. Administrators blame everyone except themselves. Who’s right?

There are many causes for our failing public school systems, but few fixes. Over the next few weeks, I will present an on-going discussion (in small segments!) on my blogosphere of both aspects from the standpoint of a teacher.

From Second to Second Worst?

In 1970, California stood number two in the mythical race for state supremacy of K-12 public education systems. Naturally, the U.S. as a nation was highly regarded throughout the world for the knowledge and skills of the students in our public schools. Now California stands number 49 in the U.S., and still seems to be on the decline. The American education system is becoming a joke throughout the industrialized world. The burning question, of course, is: Whose fault is it?

The number one answer I hear is: It’s all the fault of the teachers. Teachers are the people most directly in control of the outcome, right? Therefore, if scores are falling, it must be because the teachers are failing.

This theory has primarily been propagated by politicians, either directly or indirectly. I have seen many politicians use the media to specifically say that we have many “bad teachers” or “dead wood” in many schools, especially in the low performing schools. Even those politicians who do not overtly accuse the teachers of being the culprits do so indirectly, primarily by piling new requirements and qualifications on top of what a person must already go through in order to receive their teaching credentials. The emphasis on continuing education and endless training for teachers is overwhelming to most.

Not surprisingly, when their elected representatives make use of their easy access to the media to make such claims, the people nod their heads in agreement. After all, parents also know who has most direct responsibility for the education of their children, yet they know very little about anything else in relation to the public school system. Naturally, the children then follow prevailing wisdom. After all, they have the most direct contact with teachers every day, and that person becomes the most influential being in their failure –or occasional success. There were many times I asked the question in one of my classes: “Why is our standard of education falling?” I got that answer first and foremost: the teachers are bad.

As public education teachers are government workers, serving the same state (or county) as our legislators, what possible motivation could the politicians have for blaming it on teachers? Because the first priority of a politician is to be reelected.

Obviously, a politician’s constituents complain about the problems they face in their daily lives. Education is always a topic for discussion, whether it’s about the cost or the quality of what is being delivered. As our national status has continued to decline since 1970, and California in particular has been sliding off of the domestic map, the public has been clamoring for fixes to the problem. There are actually many factors that are contributing to this phenomenon, and the legislators know they must be seen taking some sort of action in order to fix things or their constituents will find someone who will. The easiest target is clear: blame the teachers. If we say the teachers are lousy, then we can take a number of steps to clearly show action, responsiveness, and deep concern — even if we don’t show progress.

Tomorrow: blaming the teachers

Our Failing Public Schools (Especially in California)

March 28, 2012

Over the next few weeks, in small chunks, I’ll be discussing our failing public school systems from the standpoint of a teacher.

AB 131 “California Dream Act” orders colleges to serve illegal immigrant students — at the sacrifice of taxpayers and their children

March 27, 2012

Governor Jerry Brown signed AB131—the second half of the so-called “California Dream Act”—into law on Oct. 8, 2011. It has subsequently been approved by the UC Regents. Given the bloated salaries of the ridiculous number of top administrators and their obscene benefits packages, they did not dare to rock the already listing State boat by vetoing the bill; they know which way the political winds are shifting in increasingly liberal California. The law is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2013.

When it is fully implemented, the “Dream Act” will cost California taxpayers millions of dollars, and deny the children of those citizens the state education and financial aid they deserve so that illegal students can take their place. It’s already nearly impossible for current students to get the classes they need in order to graduate on time—assuming they can win one of the increasingly tight spots for admission—and that will only get worse. In fact, passing of the legislation has already started costing taxpayers their hard-earned money.

How is it already costing the state money? Because all state college systems are required to spend man-hours and dollars “educating” eligible students on their new rights.

Barbra Hubler, director of the Office of Student Financial Aid at SF State, says that as soon as the new law took effect the school began to work with the estimated 300 undocumented students now enrolled there. “The CSU Chancellor’s Office will provide guidance to the campuses on how to implement the changes mandated by the California Dream Act for state financial aid programs,” explains Hubler. adding that many illegal students are unaware of the changes. Sadly, her office’s limited resources and time constraints make it difficult to provide students with counseling and comprehensive information. SF State’s financial aid office has already implemented changes to help students get more information about scholarships they may qualify for. The office currently has two advisers dedicated to assisting “Dream Act” students, and provides training to financial aid and other campus departments to increase staff awareness about the law and its requirements.

But that’s the tip of the ever-dangerous iceberg. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, the California Student Aid Commission, which administers Cal Grants, calculates that 5,462 undocumented students will be eligible for state aid in the 2013-14 school year. Most Cal Grants pay the cost of basic tuition, currently $12,192 at UC, and $5,472 at CSU, for a total of slightly more than $13 million. Earlier reports put the dollar cost at over $40 million annually, which no doubt took into account that “many undocumented students also will be eligible for a fee waiver at community colleges for very low-income students, and others will qualify for institutional aid provided by CSU and UC.” In other words, even if the illegal students get a loan, don’t expect them to have to pay it back.

There are dissenting voices in the legislature. “Tuition rates have been going up, the universities have budget cuts of $1.2 billion and there are lotteries for classes – but if someone is here illegally, we roll out the red carpet,” said Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks (San Bernardino County), who serves as vice chairman of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee. Exactly. We are cheating our own children out of their rightful opportunity, and paying out of our pockets to give those opportunities to students who are draining our economy in many other ways already (free lower level education, free health benefits, food programs, special education classes such as ESL, etc., etc.).” But who listens to people who speak from reason rather than emotion?

How could this possibly cheat “our own children”? Here is a quote from the University of California’s mission statement: “Through our academic programs, UC helps create an educated workforce that keeps the California economy competitive. And, through University Extension, with a half-+million enrollments annually, UC provides continuing education for Californians to improve their job skills and enhance the quality of their lives.”

In other words, the UC and CSU systems were set up to improve the lot of California’s citizens, the children of parents who are legal residents and actually pay for the system through their tax dollars. Whether or not these illegal students may choose to remain in California and contribute to our economy (if they ever pay income tax), what this law does is greatly diminish the opportunities for those who already pay for and deserve a spot in one of our state institutions, as well as the possibility of financial aid—which, by the way, is also paid for by California citizens.

The fact that no other country in the world will provide an American citizen with free education is irrelevant. On the other hand, the statement by UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who said that many such students are brought to this country as children “and didn’t do anything illegal themselves,” is equally irrelevant.

What is relevant is that there are many private institutions throughout the country where those students can get an education, the same as any other American citizen. They are also allowed into the UC system if their grades permit, as are many foreign students who pay out-of-state tuition. But to grant these illegal aliens both thousands of places in our state colleges and millions of dollars of taxpayer money is not only an insult to state taxpayers, it is blatantly unfair to the children who are here legally and who deserve those benefits.

As a teacher, I urge both legislators and college administrators to follow the primary maxim of the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. It’s wonderful to give a California higher education to illegal aliens, but not when we are doing harm by denying the same opportunity to our own children.

I am the third generation of grandparents who came here from Mexico. My grandparents became citizens through the normal process, and they paid their taxes. I attended the UC system, but received no state aid. I can understand the financial stress of these illegal students, but, frankly, they have other options, and the children of Californians—that is, citizens—come first in my book. Getting a great education at one of our state institutions is a dream, yes, but one becoming much more of an unattainable one to the children of actual taxpayers, thanks to Jerry Brown and other political pimps who pander to the growing majority of Hispanics, legal or illegal, in this state. With the growing political pressure from illegal aliens, the state politicians continue to sell out the rights of legal citizens.

About My Writing

March 26, 2012

What is the focus of Don Maker’s Blog? None. For me, writing is about catharsis as much as it is about trying to make some money. That’s one of the reasons my writing is so eclectic — although some might say “scattered”!

In the old days, one had to trot down to Berkeley Square (no, not Northern California; it’s a town square in the West End of London, England, and it’s pronounced “Bar’-clay”) and stand on a soap box (preferably a sturdy wooden sort) and harrangue passers-by at the top of your lungs if you wanted others to share in your pithy thoughts on the world. If you were interesting, people might actually stop and listen. Now, we have the internet.

I’m happy to share my views on everything: sports, politics, education, philosophy, religion, the social order (and disorder) of things, nature, finance — you name it, I’ve got an opinion on it! My wife and I have had the good fortune to travel extensively, but if you wish to read my articles on international travel, please click on the link to Yahoo!, because they paid me for them, and they have exclusive rights to them.

Other than travel, if my writing entertains you at all, please feel free to comment, pro or con. While I discourage profanity and personally defamatory remarks, any opinion you care to share is just as valid as mine, and I hope I’m open-minded enough to think seriously about your point of view and respond intelligently (well, as intelligently as is possible for me…). If you REALLY like my writing, then please try one of my novels! They are mostly historical fiction, but again, I’m pretty eclectic/scattered.

Thanks for sharing my world, i.e., blogosphere. Cheers, Don Maker

Professional Athletes Are Entertainers, Not Heroes

March 26, 2012

Perhaps one of the most abused words in sports journalism is “hero”, or perhaps “heroic”. The reason it is abused is not because it’s overused-which it is-but because it’s so totally inappropriate. After all, the journalists, whether they be bloggers, periodical pundits or talking heads, are talking about athletes. They are NOT talking about heroes.

Certainly, athletes sacrifice much in the way of time, effort and sweat to accomplish their often amazing feats. Almost all athletes suffer injury and go through intense pain in order to play their game. But they are doing it for the love of the game, and perhaps for that big payday, not because another person will stay alive, or stay healthy, or enjoy freedom, or enjoy anything more than perhaps a transitory thrill at watching their accomplishments. That is dedication, and perhaps courage, but it is certainly not true heroism. Hitting a home run when the athlete is being paid millions to hit it is simply doing their job, not being “heroic”.

What is a Hero?

A hero should be someone who puts it on the line for others, whatever “it” may be. Sometimes, it is actually life and limb they are risking to serve others, such as a soldier or a would-be rescuer. Police and firefighters are often heroes. Sometimes, it can be much less obvious, such as a parent who takes an extra job to have enough money to finance her child’s dream, or a teacher who signs up to teach at a tough inner-city school although he could be making a better salary at a wealthy suburban school.

If it was simply the abuse of the word when applied to athletes, then this would be a squabble about semantics, not a serious article. But that is actually the least of the disturbing element about the abuse of the word. The serious issue is that those journalists are actually trying to make heroes out of those athletes, that is, someone whom a young person should idolize and emulate. In other words, they are trying to make them into heroic figures, because a true hero SHOULD be admired and emulated as a person.

Well, most of them are certainly not heroic, and many of them are not even people you would want your child to be seen with in public, let alone to worship and imitate. There are so many stories in the media these days that it’s not necessary to repeat them here. Tales of domestic violence, public drunkenness, weapons in strip clubs and even locker rooms, illegitimate children and sexual addictions, public displays of rudeness towards coaches, owners and fans, fights in locker rooms or on the field, and so on, are almost daily occurrences. And those are only the stories that make the news.

Professional Athletes are Entertainers

As soon as an athlete becomes a professional, they become an entertainer. After all, they produce nothing but the pleasure of watching their performance, which is the very description of an entertainer. Unless a person is a diehard gambler, there is in reality nothing but satisfaction or dissatisfaction riding on the outcome. Why is it that we treat an athlete any differently from any other entertainer? Yet we do.

The tabloids love actors, singers, comedians, dancers, and other performing artists, because we can mock their lifestyles as well as their onstage antics. We can be shocked and titillated by their frivolous affairs, as much as we may be enraptured by their professional performances. Yet we do not proclaim even the greatest of performances to be “heroic”, and very few people seriously consider a performing artist to be a true role model, someone who stands for decency, honesty, strength of character, and an otherwise admirable lifestyle. But that is exactly the way in which the media love to portray famous athletes!

How about when an athlete donates large sums of money to a charity or sets up a foundation that helps those in need? That makes them a philanthropist, but not a hero. After all, for the most part it’s only money and some time, not any personal risk. And, quite often, the athlete’s agent, or perhaps their contract, calls for them to “give back to the community” for PR purposes, so it may not even be their idea-or their desire.

That’s not to say an athlete can’t be heroic. There have been numerous other stories about athletes risking their lives to save others, and that indeed made them heroic. The story of Patrick Daniel “Pat” Tillman is probably the best known. A professional football player who left his lucrative career and enlisted in the United States Army after the September 11 attacks, Tillman served in multiple tours of combat before he was killed in action. Regardless of how that may have happened, Tillman gave his life for his country and his fellow citizens.

Save the Word for Those Who Deserve It

However, what an athlete does on the field of play is not heroic. So, journalists of all ilk, let us use the terms that are appropriate. Call them strong, and perhaps courageous in battling through injury to earn their multi-million dollar salaries. Call them fleet, graceful, powerful, acrobatic, nimble, and by all means incredibly athletic. But, please, do not call them heroic. Save that term for the people who really deserve it. And save your adulation for the people whose contributions to our society are truly heroic, and that we really should hold up on pedestals and admire, and try to emulate.

A Doom and Gloom Prediction: The New Owners of the Golden State Warriors are Repeating the Mistakes of the Past

March 15, 2012

In November of 2010, I wrote an article about the new owners of the Golden State Warriors, Joseph Lacob and Peter Guber. I extolled their virtues, and claimed that the people of Northern California would someday rejoice that they had beaten the odds to buy the team, one of the lamest in the NBA.

These men were not the bumbling, reclusive, penny-pinching Chris Cohan, nor the flamboyant, egotistical, win-at-all-cost billionaire Larry Ellison. They were solid businessmen, savvy in the ways of both sports and marketing. They had a plan, and would follow it in a sound manner until the team was a winning product and the entire area could bask in the respectability they brought throughout the nation.

Today came The Trade. I confess I’m neither an NBA expert nor Cassandra or Michael Nostradamus. But there can only be one logical conclusion: there is a curse upon the owners of the Golden State Warriors.

I listened to the press conference tonight as General Manager Larry Riley announced that the Warriors were sending guard Monta Ellis, center Ekpe Udoh, and the contract for center Kwame Brown to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for center Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson. As a mere fan, I was stunned. Where was the sense of this?

We’ve seen Stack Jack’s Act. He’s cleaned up his act a lot, but is still a volatile, unreliable personality and player. He’s a streak scorer; he defends a lot better than Ellis, but has nowhere near the scoring averages and creativity of the smaller man. Andrew Bogut is a fine fellow, an All-Star quality player—when he’s healthy. But that’s very questionable at the present, in spite of Riley’s assurances that they had consulted with 500 physicians and 27 astrologists. And both Udoh and Brown had the potential (aye, there’s the rub!) to develop into splendid centers.

So now the two keys to the team are Bogut and Stephen Curry, a splendid center/point guard combination that could be the cornerstone of a playoff team—if either one can stay healthy. They have one good foot and one good ankle between them, and no guarantee that either will play more than half a season ever again. That’s your cornerstone?

I say that’s desperation. Why couldn’t the Warriors wait until the next draft, when they might be in a position to draft a great future big man? Were they clearing space? They certainly weren’t dumping salary. So what’s up? What indeed will the future bring?

There were only two great predictors in history: Nostradamus and Cassandra. Unfortunately, almost everything they foretold was a total disaster. I can only hope that, in seeing doom and gloom for this trade engineered by the current owners, I will not fall into the same category.